Eye dept overdue list grows

The number of eye patients overdue for follow-up appointments has been growing at the Southern District Health Board, which has failed to meet another deadline to clear the waiting list.

It is one year since the board admitted the extent of patient follow-up delays that caused partial sight loss in a group of patients.

Figures released under the Official Information Act reveal there were 115 ‘‘do not delay’’ follow-up patients — the most urgent — at the end of last month, compared with 63 ‘‘do not delay’’ patients at the end of September.

More than 650 patients had waited 1.5 times longer than they should, compared with 549 the previous month. In total, 3211 eye patients were overdue at the end of last month, compared with 3032 the previous month.

As well as the OIA release, the Otago Daily Times has been leaked an internal paper that says a name change for ophthalmology is being considered to make it easier to find.

‘‘Patients do not understand the terminology that it means eye department,’’ it said.

A special programme of work has been under way this year to clear the waiting list. Deadlines for completion were made first for June, then September, then November.

An internal document released under the OIA said an unexpected ‘‘ballooning’’ in patient numbers occurred after special clinics were organised to see more patients.

Hired to cut the waiting list, locums inadvertently added to it, the paper shows.

‘‘The effect of having multiple locums’ clinics was not well understood initially.

‘‘Appointments which are very overdue have often required follow-up within a short period of time in order to get the patient’s condition stabilised.’’

Staff fatigue and recruitment difficulties were also blamed.

It is not possible to compare the overdue figures with those furnished a year ago, as the method for counting them changed.

An external review of 34 affected southern patients found all but one experienced care delays.

However, the report concluded only 23 cases met the criteria for ‘‘serious adverse events’’.

The real number of harmed patients is unknown because of reporting delays and other logistical issues, but the problem is likely to feature again in the 2016-17 national adverse events report, whose release is understood to be scheduled for today.

Previously, the ODT has reported the Ministry of Health chided the board for a lack of progress.

''Your recovery plan for ophthalmology services has been further delayed from September to November, which extends well past your original timeframe of June 2017,'' a senior official wrote in July.

While the board admitted the full extent of the problem a year ago, it had admitted there was a problem earlier.

At the start of last year the ODT revealed Southland man Koby Brown was told to be patient when he repeatedly asked Southland Hospital for an appointment.

While waiting, Mr Brown permanently lost the sight in one eye.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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